Remote work has become the new norm for millions around the world, since the advent of the global pandemic. Finding ways to effectively evaluate your remote staff’s performance is therefore an increasingly important aspect of both business and human resources’ management.

Managers are now faced with the task of finding ways to evaluate remote employees who are no longer working in the office, when most communication is now done virtually. And as many employees have had to rapidly transition to being remote, it’s even more critical to communicate with your staff about what metrics you plan to use to evaluate their performance (and how this will differ from traditional annual reviews).

The traditional office-based work model allows staff to readily pop into a manager’s office to ask questions or to seek advice. There needs to be space for this informal style of communication to take place virtually, by managers scheduling time for regular check-ins.

It’s also important to communicate clearly with employees about your expectations, to set goals together, to create a work plan of actionable milestones, and to share a remote work policy with your staff.

There are many tools to evaluate the performance of remote staff, and many actions that employers can take to support remote staff so that they can be more productive. Below we explore several best practices to assist employers and managers to both optimize performance and effectively evaluate performance of their remote teams.


Reasons to conduct a performance review for remote staff

Performance evaluations and reviews are conducted by companies to help them effectively manage individual staff members and teams. It also offers an opportunity to engage with staff about shared goals and to get feedback on improvement measures.

Employers can also gain invaluable insights through reviews into the achievements of individual employees, where more support is needed, and whether expectations are being met.

Performance reviews are also a chance to have meaningful conversations and to recognise strengths and weaknesses with a view to helping employees feel a sense of connectedness (which is particularly important for remote staff), and to build motivation.

Evaluations can also help to build company culture and values. And they can be a foundation for promotions, skills training, or disciplinary actions.

During a global pandemic when so many employees have had to transition to working from home, often under challenging circumstances (for example if they have to juggle childcare with work), performance evaluations can provide much needed opportunities to reset goals.

For example, a performance review may reveal an employee’s need to change their working hours, or to help them prioritize milestones or revise work hours. Flexibility and empathy go a long way in enhancing relationships with employees during challenging times like these, while finding ways to also maintain productivity and quality outputs.


Tips for improving remote staff performance reviews

Below are some tips to help managers and business owners improve or re-think remote staff performance reviews.


Onboarding and setting key performance indicators

It’s important that managers communicate upfront with staff about what metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) will be used to assess their work. This should be clearly outlined in your remote work policy or employee contract. Providing employees with this level of transparency can help to foster a greater sense of trust and having open communication also helps them know how to prioritise their work.

You can use quality-based metrics in addition to other metrics, such as customer satisfaction and client engagement. This can help managers to ascertain whether their staff are producing high-quality work or not. This can be particularly important as a means of evaluating remote staff.

Many managers of remote staff also like to focus performance reviews on outputs, not just the number of hours that employees work. Rather than trying to monitor the amount of time remote staff spend at their desks, companies are starting to focus on their ability to provide quality work on time.

New staff should go through a comprehensive onboarding process that helps them to feel welcomed and supported. Pairing new staff members with a mentor or buddy can also help create a feeling of connectedness which is something that remote workers often struggle with. These check-ins by mentors can provide a form of mini performance reviews, as new staff become accustomed to the new working culture and expectations.


Host regular check-ins and feedback sessions

When managing remote employees, it’s better to have regular check-ins and feedback sessions, rather than one annual review meeting. That way staff feel like they are being supported and guided, and you can identify any skills development opportunities and challenges and work on those immediately.

It’s also less stressful to have regular short review sessions, than one big annual review. Getting feedback on a regular basis also helps remote employees to know if they are performing to your expectations and offers the opportunity to set goals together.

It’s important to personalise these check-ins and feedback sessions, ideally doing them via video conferencing rather than email so there’s a chance for clear communication and exchange of ideas. It also helps to avoid any misunderstandings. It can be more productive to have one-one-one meetings rather than team ones, so that employees feel comfortable expressing views or concerns.

Managers should give employees time to discuss challenges they are facing that relate to their remote work, and should not be too hasty with meeting time limits.


Create milestones and goals

It becomes easier to track a remote employee’s progress if you set clear milestones for tasks. Consider breaking down goals into actionable milestones that can be monitored and assessed on a regular basis.

These milestones can have deadlines and quality measures linked to them. You could even use project management software to track progress of each milestone.

Certain virtual project management tools, like for example a Trello board where all employees can see what has been assigned to the team, can also help create incentives for staff to enhance their productivity and performance by comparing themselves with others.


Get feedback

It’s important to get feedback from employees and team members about productivity and performance so that you can get an overall view of individual staff performance and areas where the company needs to improve.

One way is to ask for staff feedback on their team members, according to standardised performance-related criteria. You can also request staff to provide self-evaluations, which can be useful if used with team assessments and feedback from managers as well as other key performance indicators.


Build Trust

If you foster a true sense of trust between managers and employees, this can help to create more accurate performance evaluations. That’s because if staff are not fearful or distrusting of their managers, then they are more able to give honest feedback and to communicate in a more relaxed manner.

Building trust also makes it easier for staff to accept critical feedback and help inform their performance in future. And it can create a greater sense of camaraderie, shared goals, a sense of purpose, and the desire to act on aspects identified in reviews that require improvement.


Final thoughts

Performance reviews are an integral part of most business management practices. They are arguably even more critical when companies transition to remote work models, as it provides opportunities for managers and employees to set goals, voice concerns, and work together to find solutions where needed.

They also provide managers and staff with opportunities to get to know each other better and to build trust, to communicate regularly, and to uncover any gaps or challenges that need addressing earlier rather than later.

Regular performance reviews, as opposed to one annual review, are preferable in remote work environments. They also provide a much needed sense of connectedness for remote staff who often feel quite lonely working remotely.